Gender row sees MEPs oppose male ECB appointment
by Daniel Mason
Members of the European Parliament today voted against the nomination of Yves Mersch to fill a vacancy on the European Central bank's executive board in a protest against the lack of women in top jobs at the institution – but the appointment is expected to go ahead anyway.
In a tight vote in Strasbourg, MEPs opposed Mersch's candidacy by 325 to 300 with 49 abstentions. However, parliament does not have the binding power to block the decision of eurozone member states' governments. Mersch, Luxembourg's central bank chief, would become the sixth member of the ECB board, on which there are currently no women. No further vacancy is expected until 2018. Meanwhile, all 17 eurozone central bank governors, who sit on the ECB's governing council, are also male.
Only two women – Finland's Sirkka Haemaelaeinen and Austria's Gertrude Tumpel-Gugerell – have sat on the executive board in the past. Sharon Bowles, who chairs parliament's economic and monetary affairs committee, said: "It has been established that gender balance leads to less risk taking, a point of particular importance in financial services. We need more than just talk and promises that fall short."
Parliament has raised the issue for two years in hearings with previous ECB candidates. In May, Bowles' committee wrote to Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker requesting that a female candidate be considered for the vacancy left by Spaniard José Manuel González-Paramo, whose eight-year term had ended. The committee also asked that a plan be drawn up to ensure that more women were recruited to top posts. But the row rumbled on into the autumn, with MEPs postponing a September hearing with Mersch until this month.
Bowles said European Council President Herman Van Rompuy had "not taken the opportunity to offer more than lip service to what is a very serious matter. He has promised nothing, not even a road map, for appointing women to the ECB board in the future. European institutions should be leading by example, not dragging their feet."
This week Van Rompuy, addressing MEPs, said it was "urgent to fill that vacancy". However, he added that EU leaders should "identify and propose female candidates for vacant posts at European level, in particular the economic and financial sector where the under-representation of women is blatant".
Member states now have the option of continuing with the appointment in defiance of parliament or putting forward a new nomination. Guy Verhofstadt, leader of parliament's Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, said it would be a "huge political error for the council to proceed in complete disregard of the position adopted today. They should nominate two new candidates – a man and a woman – and the best should get the job."
But the centre-right European People's Party voted in favour of Mersch. "We are fully convinced that Mersch is of recognised standing and has the professional qualifications and experience in monetary and banking matters needed to exercise the functions of a member of the executive board of the ECB," said group leader Joseph Daul. "The EU needs stability in these times of crisis and the ECB has a crucial role to play."
The EPP called for the council to proceed with the appointment of Mersch, a position Green MEP Sven Giegold described as "scandalous" and a "flagrant disregard for the democratic process". "For the largest political group in the parliament to call for the council to ignore this democratic vote is not only grossly irresponsible, it is a deep insult to the democratic role and functioning of this house." He added: "Mersch's candidacy lacks democratic legitimacy; proceeding to appoint him to the ECB's executive board, in spite of today's vote, would create two different levels of legitimacy. Against this background, we also appeal to Mersch to withdraw his candidature."